This article was based on episode 87 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the guest bonus when you become a member at mamieks.com/join.
I was asked a number of years ago if I’d experienced gender bias at work. Without missing a beat, I replied with a confident, “No.” In the years since, I’ve come to understand gender bias and its insidious nature.
The challenge with such deeply embedded concepts of gender is that they’re almost impossible to see. This parable told by David Foster Wallace puts it perfectly. He tells a story of two young fish swimming by an older fish. The older fish says to the two younger fish, "How's the water?" The younger fish don't respond. They keep swimming and after a little while one turns to the other and says, "What's water?"
Andie Kramer and Al Harris have been mentoring women, and speaking and writing about gender communication for more than 30 years. As a married couple, both practicing lawyers, Andie and Al offer women unique, balanced, and highly practical advice they can use to prevent gender biases from slowing or derailing their careers. Andie and Al also present arresting information and compelling examples for male audiences to make them aware of and sensitive to the gender biases that hold women back—even in the most well-intentioned organizations.
BREAKING MYTHS ABOUT GENDER
According to Andie and Al, the differences between the genders is no more real than any other blanket statement about humans. Women and men are more alike than we are different, and every person is unique. In reality, the differences we attribute to the genders are stereotypes which we perpetuate. In doing so, we’ve come to believe them as fact.
Myth 1: Women are communal
There is widespread agreement that women are nice, kind and community oriented. They are the gatherers (not the hunters), the mothers. This concept spills into the workplace where women are expected to be sweet, soft or gentle. While some women are, it's not true of every woman.
Myth 2: Women are mean to one another at work
Unfortunately women are just as susceptible to gender stereotyping as men. When a woman is supervised or reports to another woman, we unwittingly expect her to be kind. (After all, she’s experienced the challenges of being a woman at work.) When instead, a female boss is demanding or a straight shooter, we call her names and assume she is being cold or selfish. At that moment, we’ve fallen prey to the stereotypes we’re fighting so hard to eliminate.
THE GOLDILOCKS DILEMMA: WOMEN MUST BE JUST RIGHT
Al and Andie describe a dilemma that many women experience when working in a dynamic team-based environment. They call it the Goldilocks Dilemma: If women are nice and kind, then people like us, but they don't give us important work to do. On the other hand, if we're strong and assertive, then we're competent, but nobody wants us on their team.
In most work environments, female managers are not yet able to behave like male managers and be accepted. Women can be direct and forceful, but they must also appear to be concerned about the other people. Women have a harder road to walk than men, but they can do it.
HELP END GENDER BIAS AT WORK
While some things are harder to change than others, Andie and Al offer these three suggestions for managers:
Allow for flexible work scheduling for everyone, not just women.
Accept that we are whole humans whose lives at work and at home intertwine. Recognize when an outside demand or concern exists.
Provide opportunities to everyone, not only men.
When managers focus on workplace outcomes rather than “the rules” (e.g. face time in the office, working hard, staying late, etc), there are many things we can do to allow the people that we manage to run their own lives in ways that work for them.
KEEP UP WITH ANDIE AND AL
Get three checklists from Andie and Al when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at mamieks.com/join.
Gaslighting Tip Sheet: This guide offers nine tips on how to respond when women are told they are imagining gender bias.
Preventing Interruptions: This sheet provides tips on how to avoid being interrupted, and what to do when you are interrupted.
Saying “No”: This guide walks you through the thought process of What to when you are asked to do something that won’t advance your career.
Membership provides access to dozens of guest bonuses and episode guides to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.
This article was based on episode 87 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.